Stephanie Powley Unrau

Supervisor: Shannon Scott

Project: Testing three knowledge tools developed to help parents with acutely ill children

Degree program:


Lay abstract:

A revolution is underway in health—a revolution where patients and healthcare professionals work together. Essential to achieving this mission in child health and simultaneously improving health outcomes is actively engaging patients and their families in healthcare decisions. Critical to family involvement in children's healthcare is ensuring that families can have access to essential, often complex health information. In this project, we will evaluate three innovative knowledge tools for parents with sick children. Parents were actively involved in the development of these tools and now will be actively involved in their evaluation. After the evaluation, these tools that have art at their foundation will be made widely available using digital and social media platforms.

What motivated you to participate in this research?

Knowledge translation (KT) is a vibrant and interesting facet of health research, poised as it is at the intersection between hard-won medical evidence and real-life practice. This is my second KT project with a pediatric focus. What drew me to Dr. Shannon Scott and her Translating Evidence in Child Health to Enhance Outcomes (ECHO) lab was her direct partnership with parents in tool creation and evaluation. Parent education is the key to unlocking better child health outcomes; in order to provide the best care for their children, they need accurate, understandable medical information. ECHO uses innovative art-based mediums (e.g., interactive infographics, whiteboard animations and illustrated e-books) to bridge education gaps and language barriers in delivering this information. Not only do they synthesize these guidelines based on rigorous review of current literature, but they also collaborate with interdisciplinary teams and parents in the production and validation of every novel tool and intervention. This means interviewing parents who have recently experienced the pediatric conditions being described by ECHO's KT tools, and capturing their experiences and narratives within the tools. ECHO's research demonstrates the power of the narrative element, where parents are reassured and empowered when they are able to relate to the similar experiences of others and know they are not alone. These approaches to KT are not yet commonplace, but are the future of best-practices in KT health research. They testify to how the ECHO team is dynamic, innovative and supportive—what better place could I be to develop academic research skills that will help me improve how health information is communicated to parents, both in my own medical practice and in practices around the country?

What are your career aspirations?

As a first year medical student, I’m aware that there are many exciting career directions that I may still discover. However, I’ve been passionate about the health and well-being of certain populations since my early teens: namely, children and inner-city women. My current career aspirations tend towards becoming a general practitioner with a clinical focus on inner-city women and their children, or a pediatrician. Volunteering with children of all ages in various camp capacities over the last ten years has helped me understand that there is nothing brings me quite as much joy as helping a child reach their potential, even in some small way. Volunteering with women in the inner-city has helped me to realize the power of relationships and standing together to bring hope into difficult circumstances. After having had various research experiences, I also believe that if I really care for these populations it is critical that I improve their treatment and care globally, by addressing issues I see in my practice through research as a clinician-researcher.

How has this studentship helped you toward those aspirations?

This studentship has provided me with the incredible opportunity to be part of a KT mobilization force much bigger than I had imagined! It has been quite the education at team meetings, learning how a Canada Research Chair and her team manage dozens of ongoing projects in all different stages; collaborate with many different researchers, stakeholders and skilled professionals; and still maintain a pure desire to help others amidst it all. Examples of this last and most valuable of traits are found in how Dr. Scott continually makes her students' professional development and well-being a priority, and responds generously to requests for help in research from outside labs. All this, despite having more projects under her care than anyone I’ve ever encountered in my life (and I’ve seen many high-functioning circles since beginning university and getting into medicine, research and otherwise). I’ve been privileged to work on various projects that have honed my understanding of usability testing, process evaluation and literature reviews. These will help me speak eloquently and knowledgeably about our lab's work at various upcoming conferences, which in themselves are treasured opportunities to expand my network as I go forward and prepare for a career as a clinician-researcher. Finally, all of these experiences will ultimately help me to match to the residency that can best prepare me for the service I hope to provide, and to espouse the principles of excellence, generosity and compassion as ECHO does throughout my career.